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Harvey Aronson, who wrote the boxing story beginning on page 40, is a newspaperman of long experience and a lifetime sports fan. There are times when Aronson would probably like to forget that he is also one-twenty-fifth of a purely imaginary lady novelist named Penelope Ashe who "wrote" the runaway bestseller Naked Came the Stranger.
Aronson comes honestly by his love of sports—particularly boxing. His father once fought as a lightweight under the name Kid Aron and was later an inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission.
As a boy growing up in the far reaches of New York City, Aronson often accompanied his dad to the fights at the old smoke-filled Jamaica Arena on Long Island and, at 19, he was working as an usher (so he could get in free) at Yankee Stadium the night in 1948 when an aging Joe Louis defended his heavyweight title for the last time by knocking out Jersey Joe Walcott.
At his father's urging, young Aronson even tried his own hand at boxing, taking lessons at a grubby gym in a skid-row section of Queens. But his pugilistic career came to a quick end during intramural competition in his freshman year at Syracuse University. "My moment of truth came when I caught this guy square in the mouth with a right cross as hard as I could, and he just laughed at me."
A former columnist on the Long Island newspaper Newsday, Aronson recently quit his job to freelance, and he plans to do lots more boxing stories. One thing he refuses to do, however, is to become again a fraction of a lady novelist.
Penny Ashe's book, which was undertaken pretty much as a gag by Aronson and his 24 co-authors (most of them colleagues at Newsday), has sold nearly 100,000 copies in hard-cover, is now in paperback and has been sold to the movies for $50,000. It has brought each of the Penny Ashe alter egos $3,500 so far, and Aronson, who wrote one chapter and co-edited the rest, expects his take to rise eventually to more than $5,000. There is one thing, though, that bothers him about it all. "Our intention was to show that all it takes to make the bestseller list is to write a sexy book and then promote it heavily," he says. What he finds discouraging is that readers "don't even care that the book is terrible."
There are, however, a number of serious critics who tend to agree with Miss Ashe's readers. They feel that the Newsday conspirators, far from writing a merely "terrible" book, have managed instead a genuinely funny and devastating parody of the Jacqueline Susann-Harold Robbins school of novel-writing.